Non-governmental organizations were among the first to be regulated by UNMIK only a few months after the establishment of this mission in Kosovo. Regulation 1999/22 on the Registration and Functioning of NGOs, signed in December 1999, was quite modern for time. Aimed at the rapid functioning of a sector needed for the emergency phase and the reconstruction of the newly emerged Kosovo, this regulation established light registration procedures, soft state control mechanisms and a comprehensive list of facilities for organizations with status for public benefit. This legal framework influenced the rapid growth of the number of registered NGOs and until recently it was considered highly conducive to the activity of the non-governmental sector in Kosovo, in spite of the fact that in 2004/2005, with other promulgated acts, almost all benefits for public-benefit organizations were removed.
Although more detailed, the 2009 Law on the freedom of association of NGOs, as well as the consequent one from 2011 that is still in force, generally respected the spirit and the same approach to UNMIK regulation. Evaluated to be in accordance with the international standards related to freedom of association, the current Law on NGOs however turned out to be insufficient for the current stage of development of the Kosovo sector as well as incomplete to meet all modern requirements and challenges affecting state-NGO relations. The positive and easy access of state control within this law was taken as a cause for the inclusion of very restrictive provisions on NGOs in the Law against Money Laundering and Financing Terrorism. The wrong interpretation of the general provisions was used by the Government to adopt an Administrative Instruction allowing the arbitrary suspension of NGOs by the Department for NGOs, in complete disagreement with the principle of judicial review in any case of state intervention in the work of an NGO. Based on this Administrative Instruction, during the period 2014-2017, the Department for NGOs suspended the activity of around 30 different NGOs.
To address these issues, including increased control over NGO registration and activity, in 2014, the Department for NGOs started the process of drafting a concept paper on regulating the functioning of non-governmental organizations. Representatives of civil society participated in this process, both by sending written comments and by contributing directly to the work of the working group. The concept paper was approved in August 2016, paving the way for the establishment and work of the working group for drafting the new draft Law on freedom of association.
The first draft introduced by the Department for NGOs during October 2016 contained excessive restrictions related to state intervention in the internal affairs of NGOs and financial reporting requirements. KCSF, in cooperation with the European Center for Non-Profit Law (ECNL), actively engaged within the working group and other activities to remove the restrictive provisions. Moreover, this opportunity was utilized to advance the legal framework and fulfill the gaps identified by the practice and background studies in this area.
As a result of this commitment throughout the year 2017, the draft law adopted by the Kosovo Government in December 2017 does not contain the previous restrictions and there are considerably more favorable provisions for freedom of association with NGOs compared to the applicable Law. The draft law on freedom of association in NGOs is expected to be reviewed and approved by the Kosovo Assembly in the first part of 2018.